Concerts Concerts The Magnetic Fields Make The Sound Academy Intimate

The Magnetic Fields Make The Sound Academy Intimate

The Magnetic Fields at Sound Academy
The Magnetic Fields
Sound Academy in Toronto, ON
March 30, 2012

Review by: Lee Fraser
Photos by: Kayley Luftig

The Magnetic Fields normally play cultural institutions, so the Sound Academy seemed like an odd choice.

The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields are on a tour that features shows in venues that are amongst the most historic, charming and intimate in North America. It's understandable, then, that the Twitter-verse was all a-clatter with puzzlement over booking this quirky, folksy tour at a venue better known for loud, raucous rock concerts. The Sound Academy, a large rectangular box, does not have a reputation for great sight lines.

The stage was set, however, by the arrangement of tea light-laden tables and chairs, arranged along the sides and across the back. The soft on-stage lighting and the semi-circle formed by the musicians was something more akin to chamber music than a rock show. This is a band that really makes every venue their own home for the show, and their dedicated and loving fans helped them to fulfill the intimate atmosphere of a Magnetic Fields show.

Never before has this reviewer experienced such a silent audience. Not a single mumble by the band's reluctantly famous leader, Stephin Merritt, was missed throughout the duration of the show. Not one iota of banter with the nurturing and wonderful Claudia Gonson was talked over by even a single audience member. The cavernous Sound Academy was library-like, the audience as respectful as any audience witnessing a legend. It was fantastic: the Sound Academy actually suited its namesake.

The show put on by The Magnetic Fields was magical. They played a long and luscious set list that included tunes from all eras of the band's 21 year history.  "Plant White Roses" off their debut record and "Andrew in Drag" from their recently released album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, were both received with plenty of exuberance. The common element through every song is the witty and subtle lyrics, like "It's a place more women stay than the YWCA" within the song "My Husband's Pied-a-terre". Though Merritt is the lyricist, having lead vocals handled by Gonson or ukulele player Shirley Simms adds just the right twist to the story, while adding tasteful variety to the show. Several songs, like the up-coming single "Quick!", benefit from rich three-part harmonies.

Two highlights of the night were songs from the wildly popular 69 Love Songs. After roars of anticipation from the audience upon the introduction of "The Book of Love", Merritt wryly commented "It's very popular." Mentioning the fact that some people have played the song at their wedding, Merritt explained how it will be played at his funeral. Such is the dry humour of the genius that is Stephen Merritt. Perhaps judging the depth of the fan base in the room, "Busby Berkeley Dreams" was moved from mid-set to an encore. It featured a gorgeous cello solo by Sam Davol and a bittersweet lyric ("I should have forgotten you long ago, but you're in every song I know"). Rounding out the musical talent on-stage was the nimble-fingered acoustic guitarist, John Woo.

The Magnetic Fields left everyone in awe. Any misgivings about the venue were non-existent after this show. The Sound Academy can be an intimate venue with great sound. It just took the right band and the right fans to prove it.

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I arrived at the Sound Academy just as the opening act, Bachelorette, was taking to the stage. With the intent of checking it out for a song or two before heading to the bar for a beer, I found myself quickly and completely mesmerized by the enigma that is Bachelorette, the New Zealand musician, Annabel Alpers. The beer had to wait.

Surrounded by electronic gizmos, monitors, buttons and keys, Alpers layers effects and notes, looping her vocals, a guitar, shakers and synthesizer sounds of all sorts. The music generated is completely engaging. Rigged up to yet another laptop to her side was a large screen behind her. Images of geometric shapes morphing and moving in time with the music, added to the web that was spun on the small but very attentive audience for this opening act.

Info: Bachelorette
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